Milwaukee Makes Five (Cities So Far): Fast Food Workers Strike for Higher Pay and Union Rights
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Fast food workers in yet another city have walked out for a one-day strike, seeking better wages and the right to form unions. Milwaukee is the fifth city hit by such a strike in the past six weeks; there as in Chicago, retail workers are also joining the strike. The strategy is the same as in New York, Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit: A one-day strike by as many workers in any given store are ready to walk out, with community support not just at the time of the strike but the next day as workers return to their jobs. The complaints are the same, too:
Milwaukee Burger King employee Tessie Harrell says she earned the state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour from 2008 through 2012, even after she was promoted to shift supervisor in 2011. Last year, she got a raise to $8.25 an hour. But she says that's not enough to pay the $650 monthly rent on her two-bedroom apartment and support her six children.
"I can't afford to buy my kids shoes," says Harrell, 34, who gets food stamps and $150 a month from her mother. "There's no way I should be struggling to make ends meet."
When a worker is on food stamps, that's an employer that is relying on taxpayers to augment wages, to bring workers up to the bare minimum they need to survive. Full-time work at $8.25 an hour—a full dollar above the federal minimum wage—still leaves a family of three below the poverty level.
This wave of strikes hitting multiple fast food restaurants (and, in some cases, retail stores) in a single city for a day, then showing up in another city, is truly unprecedented. Shoot, the first New York City strike back in November was unprecedented. While it remains to be seen whether these actions, or the organizing and actions up and down the Walmart supply chain, will have an effect, the simple fact that low-wage workers are fighting back against the poverty and routine intimidation they face is deeply inspiring. What other workers should be thinking about following their lead?